“A Storybook Journey in Space”

Larrie Wanberg
Features Editor

In the middle of the night on the wide expanse of a ranch in western North Dakota, a small boy envisioned his future in the space industry. Almost forty years later, he’s putting his touch on the NASA new Orion spacecraft that is scheduled to launch in December, despite setbacks that challenged his childhood dream.

Photo courtesy of Jeremy Jacobs

Photo courtesy of Jeremy Jacobs

That night in 1975, his father had returned from checking cattle and turned on the TV to watch the first launch of an International human space flight. The TV volume, particularly loud at blast off, woke up his young son, Jeremy, then three-years old. Dragging his blanket to the front of the TV, as recalled by his father, Adrian Jacobs, the child asked why he woke him up, and began with many questions about space until he couldn’t keep his eyes open.

At breakfast next morning, the barrage of questions continued about why people go in space, how they get there and asked if he could stay up the next time and watch again.

After he grew older, he began telling everyone who asked, and many who didn’t, that he wanted to be an astronaut.

His early ambitions in sports seemed dashed on the soccer field at school during a championship game, when a collision of players “tore up his knee,” requiring extensive surgery. His boyhood activity in sports was over and he turned to books and studies.

He attained top grades and entered North Dakota State University, where he enrolled in a premier engineering program in polymers and coatings. As a freshman, he applied for and obtained a Co-op Student Scholarship with NASA and when he graduated, he went to work with NASA in Houston.

Jeremy married his high school sweetheart, Amy Paape, after she graduated from University of North Dakota with a nursing degree. Their daughter, Ava Brae Jacobs, was born on Valentine’s Day, 2006.

Shortly after her first birthday, Ava was diagnosed with a lemon-sized tumor near her brain stem, leading to a string of surgeries and chemo treatment. Feelings of despair spread through the extended family.

3-17-07 Pre-Op MRI -  Sagittal Section Plane

Photo courtesy of Jeremy Jacobs Ava celebrates her second birthday.

Photo courtesy of Jeremy Jacobs
Ava celebrates her second birthday.

As Ava went through the very long and arduous treatment phases, she earned the nickname, Ava Brave (a takeoff on her name, Ava Brae). She would ask in the mornings, “Is it pokey day?”

The family received great comfort and encouragement to continue Ava’s prescribed painful treatment from their parish, friends and family, and extended community.

Photo courtesy of Jeremy Jacobs Team Ava Brave Hearts cheers for Ava.

Photo courtesy of Jeremy Jacobs
Team Ava Brave Hearts cheers for Ava.

Ava’s dread of treatment turned to acceptance. When she arrived at the hospital, she would warmly hug the nurses or technicians, hop up on the chair and extend her arm, ready for the “poke.”

The backstory in the care of Ava was Amy’s continuing the treatments at home, finishing her advanced degree in a nurse practitioner program, having two more children, and collaborating with a sibling and extended family to orchestrate some beginning fundraising events to benefit pediatric cancer.

Ava was included in the first test group at the new Proton Radiation facility at Anderson Children’s Hospital. Current reports are promising and they are hopeful for full remission. She is active in school, playing soccer and socially engaging.

The parents, Jeremy and Amy, decided to develop a charity in support of programs for families dealing with pediatric cancer, along with support from siblings, grandparents, churches, and communities.

Jeremy Jacobs Portrait (Full)

Photos courtesy of Jeremy Jacobs Despite the tumor that threatened Ava’s life, both father and daughter are thriving—and the whole family has found a cause to champion.

Photos courtesy of Jeremy Jacobs
Despite the tumor that threatened Ava’s life, both father and daughter are thriving—and the whole family has found a cause to champion.

The non-profit organization, titled “Bravehearts for Kids,” is growing. With creative actions, an annual public event in Bismarck is scheduled for launch on Labor Day Weekend.

This will be a soft launch, when compared to Jeremy’s work at NASA. The two days of public fun, games, and food will be capped with serenity, a torch-light parade of floats (in a boat with LED lights)—each boat representing a family in need—drifting along the shores of the Missouri after dusk with a marquee that carries in lights the name of the child. Donations are voted (at $1 a vote) to support the cause through a Website or social media, accessible via cell phones, and the funds go directly to that child or the representative agency.

The business plan to generate funds is innovative, underscoring “fun” in the word “funding.” The charity has designed a business plan that will use a “co-op” structure as its center of business development.

“We came up with a concept of using the healthy buffalo berry as a focal point for creating business,” said Ava’s grandfather Adrian, “to help pay for that part of a charity that costs money.

Buffalo berries are found wild on bushes throughout North America and have been used historically for medicinal purposes by American Indians. “Today, these berries are the ‘hot’ new source for antioxidants, but also for jams and sauces and desserts,” said Adrian.

The University of Mary Leadership Class has for the past two semesters been aiding in the planning of the first annual Buffalo Berry Festival. Methods have been developed for students and volunteers to “rake in” volumes of berries, deliver a bulk to a supplier, and produce a sauce that’s been developed by the Jacobs family over the years.
“We have test-marketed a buffalo berry sauce used in making a dessert which has been sold at several fall festivals and has been very well received,” Adrian added.

The soft launch of the Buffalo Berry festival for a community of people is intimate and heartfelt, not associated with the up-coming scheduled NASA blast-off the new Orion spacecraft that is pioneering advanced technologies championed by chief engineer Jeremy Jacobs.

For one family, however, both launches have equal excitement in terms of perseverance of one’s familycareer dreams while striving for fulfilling the needs of children with pediatric cancer.

One view is like a child’s dream of looking into space with wonderment in the stillness of the night sky and conjuring up an imagined future.

The other is one family’s view from high in space when the world showcases the wonders of science—both space and medical—and the achievements of what’s possible in the space age.

This article originally appeared in the July 11, 2014 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

Avatar photo

Larrie Wanberg

Larrie Wanberg, 1920–2021, contributed features to The Norwegian American for many years, drawing on eight decades of life experience highlighted by three career recognitions: as a researcher through a Fulbright Scholarship to Norway in 1957; as a health care provider in behavioral science through a 27-year military career and awarded upon retirement in 1981 the highest non-combat medal, the Legion of Merit medal; as an educator, through a 50-year career in college education, culminating in the 2010 Public Scholar award at the UND Center for Community Engagement. Wanberg passed away in May, 2021.